I met David recently when he responded to my freelance editor survey (which I will work this week on quantifying and reporting to you). I was intrigued by the very different sort of editing that he does. A literature major might find this much more appealing than, say, the computer-programming books I started out editing!
What is your position at IUPUI and what is your affiliation with the editing program?
I work at the Institute for American Thought (IAT), which is a part of the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). The IAT includes several scholarly editing and research projects, as well as a certificate program in professional editing, which I completed in 2003.
I started out working with the letters of George Santayana, proofreading and writing footnotes. Now I do textual editing on philosophical writings published by the Santayana Edition and the Peirce Edition Project, which means that I help the Senior Textual Editor to identify specific portions of text to change, mark up transcripts to show the changes, and write notes justifying changes. I also do a lot of word-for-word proofreading, either on my own or with someone else (team proofreading). With team proofreading, one person reads the original text out loud, while the other person checks the transcript.
A portion of my time is allocated to working on a journal called Documentary Editing, which is the quarterly publication of the Association for Documentary Editing. For each issue I solicit and edit book reviews, I supervise the production of a summary of recently published scholarly editions, and I help to proofread all the pages.
Can you describe the editing program at IUPUI and the specialized type of editing that it focuses on?
The Professional Editing graduate program offers a certificate for completing one of five academic tracks: scholarly critical editing, scholarly documentary (historical) editing, technical editing, journalistic editing, or general professional editing. It is a standalone program, but taking the classes may require admission to another department in the School of Liberal Arts, such as English or History.
The critical editing and documentary editing tracks are the most popular, because they are allied with developed graduate programs in the English and History departments. Critical editing focuses on making changes to the text of a document based on evidence of the author’s actual intent, whereas documentary editing focuses on presenting the actual text of a physical document. Both usually involve rejecting changes made by editors in previous published versions of the text.
Scholarly publishing is simply publishing for the small audience of scholars doing research in certain fields where it is important to be able to read the actual source documents, but those documents are difficult to access or understand; or where the author’s previously published editions are known to have errors; or where much of the author’s work is unpublished. Usually this involves going through thousands of pages of handwritten letters, lecture notes, memos, rough drafts, submitted manuscripts, and so on, as well as comparing each word of a particular text in each edition published under the author’s direction. That means a lot of transcribing, proofreading, proofreading again, textual editing, proofreading, writing footnotes, proofreading, formatting, then proofreading again.
Most of these kinds of projects are concerned with the writings of historical or literary figures, but a few are for philosophers or scientists.
How did you get into publishing?
Before finishing college, I was hired to proofread Yellow Pages ads in 1986, based solely on my experience working on my high school yearbook. After earning a BA in German, I took a freelance job editing for a college professor. For several years I was unable to get a job in publishing, so I worked in factories, warehouses, and retail stores.
Shortly after I went back to school to earn a master’s degree, I was hired by a prepress company in 1999 as a proofreader for college textbooks, based on my previous proofreading experience, my BA, and my high score on a proofreading test. Prepress companies bid on contracts to do almost any of the production work for a book, from design to copyediting, project management, art, layout, and proofreading. Consequently, I was required to proofread many different types of books from different publishers, each following different standards.
After 18 months, the prepress company promoted me to copyeditor. As a copyeditor, I was responsible for applying the publisher’s house style, as well as setting other conventions for the book and applying them consistently. I typically edited a textbook from a different publisher each month. In 2003 they went out of business, perhaps because of the amount of prepress work being done in China and India. Because of my in-house experience, I was able to get freelance work proofreading and copyediting for publishers and prepress companies.
I had finished an MA in journalism by this time, and to complete the certification program in scholarly editing I needed only one class, which I took as an internship at the Santayana Edition. In 2004 IUPUI hired me full time, mainly because of the work I had been doing for them part time as an editorial assistant. Other important factors included my experience with desktop publishing programs, knowledge of a foreign language, experience in copyediting, an MA, and knowledge of scholarly editing gained through the Professional Editing program.
Most of the people working for scholarly editions have an MA or PhD in a relevant area (usually history, English, or philosophy) and have experience in academic research rather than commercial publishing.
After starting work with IUPUI, I continued to do commercial and academic freelance work as a copyeditor, proofreader, and electronic formatter.
What advice do you give to aspiring editors?
Almost everyone in editorial work starts out as a proofreader or editorial assistant. Almost every editorial job requires first passing a practical test of proofreading or copyediting skills, so it is important to know what is expected. Apart from watching how someone else does it, the best way to prepare is by thoroughly learning the conventions of the publisher or field you are interested in. In book publishing, the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is generally considered essential.
In commercial publishing, a bachelor’s degree is required. Postgraduate education is meaningless to most commercial publishers, unless it is in a technical area where they need a specialized editor. In scholarly publishing, a master’s degree is usually required, or at least enrollment in a graduate program.
For editorial work, your major area of study in college doesn’t actually matter, but most employers favor applicants with English or journalism degrees. This isn’t because of any particular skills taught in these programs, but rather because they want someone who already knows correct grammar, usage, and spelling and who doesn’t mind spending most of their time reading. However, most of the reading in editorial work is done at a fast pace, most of it is not going to be intrinsically interesting to you, and most of what the publisher wants you to do is dictated by them.
Also, the conventions of grammar and usage common in publishing are not necessarily the same ones taught in high school or college English classes, or indeed anything you would voluntarily read, unless you get a job with someone who publishes your favorite type of books.
Nonfiction commercial publishers are rarely interested in good “literary” style, or any idiosyncratic style at all; what they really want from most authors is clarity, good organization, and punctuality. The author also is rarely interested in stylistic questions, since they tend to already like the way they write. Therefore, most of your changes will be very pragmatic and repetitive.
In scholarly publishing, the most important standards are what the author actually wrote and what the author intended to write, while also correcting obvious errors. Most of the time is spent undoing and correcting all the work done by editors during the author’s lifetime, or redoing the work done by editors after the author’s death.